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There’s a New Parliament, but the SPDC is Still in Charge

By Burma Partnership  •  February 14, 2011

Despite the inauguration of parliament on 31 January 2011, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) remains firmly in control of Burma’s political landscape. In the lead up to the official transfer of power, which will reportedly occur on 15 March 2011, current and former SPDC members continue to shape Burma’s political future to ensure the military’s dominant position in all levels of the future government.

This week, the SPDC took further steps towards the underlying goal of its so-called ‘Seven Step Roadmap to Democracy’ – to create a system of government the military can control under the guise of civilian rule. Former SPDC general and current President Thein Sein submitted a list of 30 ministerial appointments that included 26 ex-military men and no women, which the military-dominated parliament unanimously approved. This adds to an already overwhelming number of military aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) representatives in leadership positions. USDP representatives, some of which are former military generals and officials, are the speakers of the two houses of parliament and hold all 28 leadership posts in the 14 state and regional parliaments.

SPDC Senior General Than Shwe, who has led Burma’s military dictatorship since 1992, has demonstrated no intention of relinquishing his grip on power. Than Shwe reportedly announced he will head a new eight member advisory “State Supreme Council,” a body not included in 2008 constitution. Although the exact role of the State Supreme Council is not yet known, Than Shwe clearly aims to retain his position as top decision maker. State run media has given Than Shwe more prominent state media coverage than the newly chosen president, Thein Sein, a deliberate representation of his continued authority. Than Shwe would also have a leading role on the powerful 11-member National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) should he stay on as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Than Shwe and his fellow military clique have no experience with – and no taste for – true democracy. Even as they engage in an alleged transition to civilian government, SPDC officials use the same harsh, authoritarian methods that have marked their military rule. On 6 February 2011, Democratic Voice of Burma video journalist Maung Maung Zeya was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment under draconian laws aimed to curb free speech and association. Last week, SPDC authorities reportedly placed Lieutenant-General Myint Aung under house arrest after he declined Than Shwe’s appointment to the post of defense minister. On 7 February 2011, SPDC troops engaged in the first instance of armed conflict with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) since 1997 after reportedly intruding into a KIO-controlled area. This new outbreak of fighting adds to an already high level of tension and violence between the SPDC and ethnic armed groups, including clashes between the SPDC and Brigade 5 of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Karen State.

The same SPDC authorities and military personnel who, for decades, have ruled by decree and force, violated basic rights and freedoms, and suppressed any sign of political dissent, are now installing themselves in all levels of government. Those who wish to see real change in Burma must continue to demand and push for an actual change in political leadership that has the trust and confidence of the people of Burma. To work towards this goal, all political prisoners must be freed, hostilities and attacks on ethnic communities must end, and inclusive and meaningful political dialogue must take place.

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